On a trip to Germany a few years ago, I wandered into the meat section of a grocery store. What I saw astonished me.

The beef section in the meat case was very small and the prices were very high – the price of a very average cut of beef was similar to what we would expect to pay for a prime cut of beef in a very high end grocery store. It appeared to me that European families had very little choice – in either quality or price – when they purchased beef for a family meal.

Europeans have no idea what they’re missing.

It’s just one more reason why Washington must push for a robust free-trade agreement with the European Union. If American beef exports enjoyed better access to European markets, our ranchers and processors would experience a boom of job-creating growth.

President Obama said as much in his State of the Union speech: “Trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.”

Yet very few are in the beef industry right now.

It wasn’t always this way. A generation ago, Europe was America’s second-largest market for beef. Within a few years, however, our presence in the grocery stores and restaurants of London, Paris, and Rome plummeted. We went from selling 18 percent of our beef exports to Europe in 1989 to selling just 3 percent in 1994.

Consumers didn’t turn against us, but public perceptions did. Following a series of hormone scandals in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Europeans experienced a period of anti-scientific hysteria, concerned that beef produced from animals that had received growth hormones posed a risk to human health.

So they banned it.

 

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The ban was not science-based and not needed: Growth hormones are a safe and conventional element of beef production.

Growth hormones are in fact an important part of sustainable food production. They allow us to do more with less. Cattle reach their proper weight in fewer days and with less feed, allowing quality to go up and costs to go down.

In Europe, however, ignorance and politics trumped science. The ban went into force and Americans have paid an economic price ever since.

At first, we turned to the World Trade Organization, which was established in part to adjudicate these types of disputes. The WTO ruled in our favor, observing that there’s no scientific rationale for the ban. It allowed the United States to impose retaliatory tariffs on a range of European products. This was supposed to encourage Europe to come to its senses.